Thursday, 1 May 2008

"Your Call Is Of No Importance To Us"

I've had a week of quiet frustration. It's almost as if I've been living out the lyrics of Dark Side of The Moon. What is it about modern Britain that makes otherwise intelligent people turn into idiots? My friend Andy wants to write a book called Nothing Works, in which he will catalogue every example of British disorganisation: call centres, public transport, PIN sentries... It's become easy to dismiss this sort of rage and frustration as being that of a Grumpy Old Man and I agree I'm sure I never used to get this annoyed when I was younger. But then that's surely because This Country's Going to the Dogs... Isn't it?

Last week I was trying to get across town from Holborn for a meeting with Geoff and Charlie in Charlotte Street. I was tear-jerkingly late already but decided foolishly not to walk but to get a bus. After a few, blissfully traffic-free seconds on Kingsway, I found myself stationary at green lights by Holborn Tube in steaming traffic.

Me: (To the driver) Can I get off before these lights please? There's nothing coming up on the inside lane so it's quite safe
Driver: (stares resolutely ahead)
Me: (Louder this time) Can I get off here please? - I've checked the road, there are no bikes, I won't get run over and try to sue London Transport...
Driver (slightly wobbling his head whilst tweaking a dial above it)
Me: Can you hear me in there?
Driver (slowly turning in my direction) Normally, when people shake their heads, they mean No...
Me: (Deliberately not rising to his tempting sarcastic bait) Oh, I thought you might have had some form of Tourettes...
Driver (Immediately very angry) You what? Tourettes!?
Me: (Really happy I've got him riled).. Yes, perhaps a strain which causes involuntary nodding but prevents the sufferer from actually saying anything.

Fortunately by this time, we had miraculously arrived at a bus stop and the driver had to let me off instead of caving my head in with his ticket machine. When I recounted why I was late to Geoff, he recommended this for any similar scenarios: ask nicely, then, if they ignore you - they usually do unless you're an attractive woman - simply pull the emergency lever above the door and get off. Why didn't I think of that?

To add petrol to the bile I've been trying to changing broadband provider this week too. It's been an odyssey of three month cancellation notice, inexplicable 'mac' codes and BT line availability. But the real pain and torment, the thing that really gives me a deep set desire for violent revenge is the call centre.

Me: I've phoning because you phoned on Saturday - it's about my broadband subscription
Sky: Yes, there's a problem with it
Me: Why?
Sky: Your old provider hasn't freed up the BT line
Me: OK, what about the box? You can still send me the box right? So I can set that up in advance?
Sky: No, it's been declined. Because the line's not free.
Me: So how do I (struggling with the powerful logic) 'free the line'?
Sky You have to phone your current provider or BT and get them to free it
Me: And then you can activate my broadband?
Sky: Then we can reactivate your order
Me: Do you have the number for BT? I'd rather eat my own head than speak to my current provider
Sky: (Not reacting to my ranting tone) Hold on, sir.... yes (gives me the number)

I phone the number she gives me. It turns out to be for a Barclays Insurance call centre. Maybe she did react to my rant and gave me the Barclays number as punishment. I grit my teeth and phone my current provider. I age another year whilst listening to the hold music. Eventually after a few pleasantries, I get down to business:

Me: I need you to 'free my line' apparently
Be Unlimited: Your line?
Me: Yes, my line. I'm changing providers and my new provider can't... er provide me with broadband unless they have the BT line
Be: You need to give them the 'mac' code..
Me: I've given them the 'mac' code
Be: OK. You need a ticket then
Me: What?
Be: Have you visited our website?
Me: Yes, of course, but I'm on the phone to you now....
Be: You need to raise a ticket for this on the Website, sir
Me: But I'm phoning you now, can you raise the ticket for me?
Be: No, I can help you once you have a ticket number
Me: Can't you do anything without a ticket?
Be: No, you must raise your ticket, sir and then I'll have the ticket number.
Me: OK, would you excuse me I just have to go and shoot myself...

I gently put the phone down then go into the front room and shout swearwords at the wall for a full minute. Geoff (yes, him again!) told me how, when confronted with questions which take them out of their remit, call centre operatives respond with a wall of silence. The more angry you get, the more articulate in your rage, the less they say, until they eventually put on a recording of some tumbleweed. At least I didn't get that. That would have sent me over the edge and as Geoff suggested, I be first in the queue for a ticket to Mumbai to demand satisfaction .

So along with this, plus the rain, the financial meltdown, and several people I really need to speak to about the Scottish band not getting back to me, it's not been the best week. But let's face it, eveyone apart from maybe the Queen and Rod Stewart has to deal with this stuff too. So in the spirit of cheering myself - and hopefully some of you - up, I thought I'd list five things that for me at least are making the world a better place right now. It's a bit bloggish, I know, but hey, look at what it says on the tin!

1) The Goldfrapp Album

FACT: The best album of the year so far! I actually won't have that gainsaid by anyone. And it's not as if I'm a big fan of them or anything. I'd kind of written them off after the last album; I was bored of the glam electro schtick and frankly I never bought the smuttiness either. But this is Kate Bush and Nick Drake, Nick Bush, Kate Drake... What's not to like? It fits perfectly into my current obsession with English Whimsy at the moment (Pink Floyd, XTC, Kate Bush, Sandy Denny...) but this is genuinely the sort of album that everyone will like. Every song is crammed to the brim with effortless hookage. It works privately on an iPod and publicly when you've got friends round for middle class snacks. It also sounds great in a shop: Agnes B and Fred Perry were both playing it the day I was killing time in Covent Garden a couple of weeks ago. And no, I wasn't buying - what, do you think I'm actually making enough money to buy clothes? It deserves to do as well for Mute as Play by Moby did. By the way, I think I may have invented the term English Whimsy judging from the confused looks or ridicule I get from anyone when I describe my current listening habits.

2) Dexter.

I missed this first and maybe even second, time around. It's a
truly great TV thriller - you care about the characters, there's backstory galore and it manages to have a lightness of touch, whilst being about very disturbing things. Best of all is that it features the permanently raised eyebrows of Michael C. Hall, who played gay brother Michael Fisher in Six Foot Under. I've just had to check his name on Wikipedia and have discovered that I am actually watching Season 1, which means there are two more left to see! This cheers me immensely. I won't go into the details of plot line because I'm convinced that most people reading this will be thinking: Dexter? - that's soooo 2007! but for those of you who haven't heard of it or didn't bother, it's really very good. I have to confess to being a bit of a time fascist when it comes to TV. I'm aware that this makes me sound like a twat but I'll only watch shows that I think I'm going to get something lasting from -whether from the content, from the people who are writing or directing or from the sound of my own laughter; I have no interest in reality competitions or sport or famous actors. Dexter is very much in the great writing camp but I confess I think Hall is brilliant, his face is a riot of constrained emotion.

After Eights

I know, I KNOW! Like English Whimsy, everyone I tell about my love of the wafer thin mint looks at me as if I'm mad. There's a stigma attached to them like Babycham or Twiglets, something of Abigail's Party and 1970s surburbia - a time when avocados were the height of sophistication and were called avocado pears. Well maybe I am mad - I'm mad for these little fellas anyway. But they are delicious - and after a hard day's of not getting calls returned and rocking a three month old to sleep I know there's some fun to be had in that little green box. And you know what, Walthamstow seems to be home to European After Eight mountain - you can buy them for a pound a box! As they say in Newcastle, mint!

4) Supergrass

Just think,
Supergrass have been going for 14 years - that means that if you or I had seen them as they are now but in the Britpop year of 1994, they would have been a band who had started in post punk year zero 1980. And yet, they still seem like a young band. Maybe it's because Gaz Coombes keeps pulling new, younger Coombes family members out of his hat to join the band. The latest is a willowy Kasabian-haired guitarist who fits in perfectly. Whenever I see them I'm always filled with a righteousness that stems from the fact that they haven't released a bad single in their entire career and yet resolutely never seem to be able to shake their early pop image - like Orson Wells, they did it all young and are spending the rest of their career in the shadow of their early achievements. They were superb at the Astoria two weeks ago, and the crowd - at a glance a bunch of teenage nutters going mental down the front; on closer inspection a bunch of 30-somethings reliving their youth - received them like Gods. But I couldn't help thinking how unfair their lack of BIG CROSSOVER is. The last time I saw them live, there was a little known band supporting them who also went on and failed to capitalise on their early promise. But I for one am glad Supergrass are still together - unlike the Libertines.

5) Princess Maddy and Esther's Smile

I was going to talk about Zinfandel and how frankly, after having been an evil villain trying to ensnare
Princess Jasmine for an hour before washing said Princess' hair and reading her a bedtime story, pouring one or two glasses of this down my neck is a wonderful experience. But actually, it then struck me that watching my eldest daughter's Maddy's furrowed brow whilst she is mid-Jasmine ("Daddy, pretend you're Aladdin and you want to marry me but the Sultan wants Jafar to marry me and you have to be Jafar and you capture me and then you rescue me when you're Aladdin again OK? OK? OK?) watching her excitement and frown of concentration is really so much better than booze. Esther now weighs almost 12 lbs (she was only 6lbs when she was born in January!) and for the last month or so just hasn't stopped talking bollocks. She is also a big smiler. I don't recall Maddy ever smiling so much - she was always incredibly intense, even as a baby. Hmm can't think where she got that... Esther likes to smile. Sometimes when, defeated after the day's rock, pop and call centre battles, I come home and sit down in my armchair with a grumpy man's glass of red, Esther will beam at me with her electric blue eyes and everything will be alright again.

1 comment:

  1. I hope you have a nice day! Very good article, well written and very thought out. I am looking forward to reading more of your posts in the future.